Contemporary Craft in Focus: still not

Artist Chawne Kimber stitches her experiences and activism in vibrant, improvisational-style quilts

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Chawne Kimber, still not, 2019, mid-century fabric, quilting cotton,and denim with cotton sashiko thread, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by Nedra and Peter Agnew in honor of the James Renwick Alliance, 2021.83, © 2019, Chawne Kimber

Artist and educator Chawne Kimber stitches her experience as a Black woman in the United States on her contemporary quilts, using them as a vehicle for social activism. In her artwork still not, the backdrop of Kimber’s poetic text is a body of bluesy denim patches, framed by pops of colorful fabric—all sourced from mid-century textiles. Kimber’s choice to use vintage cloth and improvisational patterns draws on her memories and family history; many of her enslaved ancestors in rural Alabama cultivated and ginned cotton.

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The back of still not.

Her great-grandmother, Mamo, and other relatives expressed themselves through quilting. The family participated in quilting circles to chat, cry, laugh, think, and mend — to create a home together. Mamo’s story was told through her quilts, and Kimber continues the thread, using her quilts, as she states on her blog, “to respond to current race-related social justice issues.” 

Register today to join artist Chawne Kimber for an exclusive virtual tour of her studio on Thursday, September 22, at 7 p.m. ET. 

This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World marks the 50th anniversary of SAAM’s Renwick Gallery by celebrating the dynamic landscape of American craft. The exhibition explores how artists—including Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, Indigenous, and women artists—have crafted spaces for daydreaming, stories of persistence, models of resilience, and methods of activism that resonate today. In order to craft a better world, it must first be imagined. This story is part of a series that takes a closer look at selected artists and artworks with material drawn from exhibition texts, the catalogue, and artists' reflections.